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Wasatch County residents in once-seasonal developments tasked with county road plowing

A snow plow driver faces the elements in Pinebrook.
Robyn Russell
A snow plow driver faces the elements in Pinebrook.

The Wasatch County Council is changing its rules about private snowplow permits, an effort aimed at neighborhoods historically snowbound each winter.

The council says as far back as living memory extends, it has seasonally closed high-altitude roads and did not plow them.

But with burgeoning growth in the county, there’s now more development happening in those snowed-in regions.

County manager Dustin Grabau said the county didn’t originally plan for those homes to be used year-round.

“These communities originally were entitled with the understanding of both the applicant and the county that they would be seasonal summer cabin communities,” he said.

The county doesn’t have a precise count of people living full-time in those areas; Swiss Mountain Estates resident Kim Townsend estimated about 40 families live year-round in his neighborhood. County leaders said the number has changed enough they want to update the private plowing rules.

The county said it’s too expensive, too difficult to maintain, and too burdensome to most county taxpayers to change the roads from seasonal to year-round, especially if the number of residents is fairly low.

“It’s just not feasible to keep many of these roads open,” Grabau said. “To say all of the residents on the valley floor who do pay those taxes should pay an inordinate percentage of those taxes towards that snow removal, I think, is something that maybe is a little unfair.”

Instead, the council is asking those residents to handle county road snow removal themselves in those areas. It would be done through a private contract. Under the new rules, plowing companies would need to apply in the summer for permits to clear snow in those neighborhoods.

Some residents said this isn’t the change they were hoping to see.

Kristen Parks, who lives in Swiss Mountain Estates, said it’s not right for her and her neighbors to pay taxes to the county and not get any services like plowing. And she said the county’s liability requirements are so onerous, her neighborhood can’t find anyone to hire.

“We can’t get any company to take it on because the liability is so stringent,” she said. “What happens in the winter when someone gets injured up there, and emergency services can’t get up there – which we paid for?”

She worried about children getting to school and adults getting to work and has asked the county to change the neighborhood’s seasonal designation.

Her neighbor, Michael Pitzer, said the county should work with them to find a solution.

“There’s just some parts of this that are just really difficult for us to deal with,” he said. “If I walk outside my driveway and plow over to my neighbor’s house to help them, I could be fined and I could have a Class C misdemeanor for doing that. That seems a little heavy-handed. Is there a way we can do something about the reasonableness of the penalties?”

But Councilmember Erik Rowland said with winter setting in, the residents have few options but to move forward with the county’s suggestions.

“Snow’s here,” he said. “If we don’t pass this, you don’t have a route to plow legally.”

The council voted to make the changes as written, noting neighborhood associations can come back to the council to request future amendments.